As British prog-rock upstarts Black Peaks prepare to unleash their second full-length album, AllThatDivides, rising drum star Liam Kearley reveals all about the ascent of the UK’s most talented new band
The prog-rock powerhouse tells Rhythm all about the ascent of the UK’s most talented band
Around 2016, Brighton prog-rock powerhouse Black Peaks emerged, almost from nowhere, with their stunning debut, Statues. The album instantly made its mark with commanding cuts like the thunderous ‘Saviour’ and the somewhat schizophrenic ‘Glass Built Castles’. Natural performer and drumming chameleon Liam Kearley quickly set his stall as one to watch behind the kit – all hefty grooves and angular, expressive fills. Continuous touring and high-profile support slots with heroes including Deftones and Mastodon quickly followed. It almost seemed too easy…
However, behind the scenes the band were working incredibly hard to hone their identity and build a following, something they’d been doing since forming under a different name in 2012. Away from Black Peaks, Liam still works full-time in a bar in Brighton and is under no illusion about the challenge of achieving – and retaining – success as a young British rock band.
Black Peaks are now gearing up for the next phase of their journey, releasing the muchanticipated follow-up to Statues and taking their new music on the road. It’s an exciting and daunting time for the band. However, whether they’re playing a sweaty club like Moles in Bath – the location for today’s interview – or warming up the crowd for their heroes at Wembley Arena, it’s clear that Liam and his Black Peaks comrades always strive to perform at the top of their game. It’s a philosophy that has worked in their favour thus far.
Here, Liam reveals to Rhythm what inspires him to be the best drummer he can be, and gives his perspective on what it takes for a modern band to make it in the digital age...
On the surface it seems like Black Peaks have followed a pretty smooth upwards trajectory, but there must have been some hard graft going on in the background?
“The background work has been non-stop. We knew what we wanted to do. We were like, ‘Let’s go touring and get our name out there.’ It garnered interest, we got a manager and it just blew up.”
Was the Black Peaks sound there from the start, or did it take some fine tuning?
“It probably took a couple of years. We were taking influence from The Mars Volta, Mastodon, Deftones, Tool, Dillinger Escape Plan. We all brought something, all these crazy influences, as well as other old school things like Sabbath and Pink Floyd. That’s how our music started, not closing any doors to genres, just letting anything happen. The EP we released under our old name [Shrine], was the first thing that felt like we were sounding like what Black Peaks is today. The first album Statues was like, ‘This is us, this is our sound.’”
And how would you describe that sound?
“It’s hard to really determine what it is, but I think when people hear it they understand it a bit more. I always ask people to let me know what they think, because I have no idea. It’s an amalgamation of so many different genres. There are so many different influences, but it’s not like we’re wearing them on our sleeve too much. We take little aspects of each of those genres and somehow put it together into this strange thing that is Black Peaks.”
What about your personal drumming influences?
“Chad Smith from the Chili Peppers was probably my biggest one from back in the day. That led to going back to his influences, like James Brown, funk, soul and Motown. For me that was more about the music of that era, less so the drummers. Then it moved onto Queens Of The Stone Age pretty quickly, so Dave Grohl. Then Jon Theodore and The Mars Volta. Then it would have been Abe Cunningham – he is a huge influence. Then Brann Dailor from Mastodon, Danny Carey. All the big progressive drummers. Even Gavin Harrison and Porcupine Tree.”
Do you think you have a signature element to your playing?
“People have said I do have that, but what that is I don’t know. I think I’m a groovy drummer. I like playing grooves, and a friend of mine recently said I play tasteful fills.”
Your fills and drum parts sound very considered. Do they take time to craft?
“Statues was an interesting one because a lot of them we wrote pretty close to when we recorded. I just let myself loose in the studio, did something and then learned it afterwards. It was very much a natural thing of letting myself do it. On the new album I was a little more held back and I learned the parts better. On Statues, most of the parts were unconsidered, animalistic and about letting myself go a little bit. That’s what was best for those songs.
“I’ve been drumming so much lately that I really want to play my parts, but before this I was all over the place, jamming a bit too much. Seeing videos from back then I want to be better than that. With things like tempos I need to hold back more. I’m working on that stuff.”
The band came out of Brighton, which has always had a great heavy music scene. What is it about Brighton that produces such great bands?
“I have no idea. There’s been so many great heavy bands from Brighton, Architects being one of the top dogs of today. Ghost Of A Thousand too. It’s quite a prolific touring stop. Bands would always come through. You have the Concorde, The Haunt, you used to have the Engine Rooms – a tiny, grotty little venue. There are really good venues where people care about music. That’s probably why we have such a flourishing scene there. I think it’s one of the best in the UK.”
Was it always the intention for Black Peaks to venture beyond the Brighton scene?
“Definitely. It started more as a desire to play in different cities. We’d seen too many people playing in Brighton all the time. It’s good to do that at the start, but you’ve got to look outside of that and be ambitious and take a chance. We toured around in our singer’s girlfriend’s old Audi A4. I had to Russian doll my drums so they fitted into themselves! It was one of the best times of my life. Touring around with those four, just having the best time; sleeping in a tent in October in the Peak District. It was crazy man, but we got out to these people that got excited about our music.”
A lot of young drummers reading this will aspire to follow in your footsteps. Honestly, how hard is it to make it as a band these days?
“It’s almost impossible sometimes. That’s why I think people always ask the question of ‘how?’: ‘How did you do it, how do you get to this point, how did you get this show?’ We definitely saw ourselves playing in bigger venues over time. But we just had to work hard towards that. That’s definitely part of it. Being a great live band is one of the main things that people have said about us. It does help, because people talk about it. We rehearse a lot. Once or twice a week we’re rehearsing, working on the songs and looking at what we can improve, and never taking things too personally if anything is criticised.
“Right band and right time for the radio was one of the big things for us, too.”
So there’s also an element of luck?
“In a way, yeah. Our manager knew somebody in PR who sent it to [Radio 1 Rock Show host] Dan P Carter, who played it to Zane Lowe. That was the start of this radio thing. For a band of our style it was crazy!”
What other tips do you have?
“Stay true to yourselves. Don’t let other people try and control you. If you find a manager that believes in you and you trust them, let them advise you.
“Touring is a big thing too. Just get out there. Get out of your hometown and save up as much as you can. Get in the car and go touring, book your own tours and hassle people as much as possible.”
Then there’s the social media, marketing and merchandise side of things?
“Joe is very good with Photoshop so he did a lot of the t-shirt designs. I take more of the social media side of things. You have to have a business head on you, especially now. In the digital age of playing music it’s so important. We’re still learning it. We were talking about this last night. We’re in a transitional period. We’re not old school, but we’re not new school. We’re right in the middle of this weird transition. We’re not into filming ourselves and saying, ‘Hey guys, how’s it going?’ We want people to get excited about what we do as a band.”
Statues was a breakout success for the band and put you on the map as a drummer to watch. Do you feel pressure to justify the hype or do you feel you’ve earned it?
“I feel it’s a bit of both really. I think every drummer that wants to do well should feel the pressure. I’m very hard on myself; that’s why I’m very surprised when any of this kind of stuff happens. The more we do this the more I realise that I want to do this for the rest of my life and that’s why I want to become the best I can be. If that means influencing somebody, that’s my job done. If I can see a kid wanting to play something like me in the future then that’s really exciting. But it doesn’t fuel me. I just want to play drums every day. That’s my fire. I definitely want to improve on it. I don’t just want to be like, ‘Yes, some success, now I can sit back and do nothing.’ This is just the beginning for me.”
Which drum parts on Statues are you most proud of?
“There’s a song called ‘Set In Stone’. That track has a really cool 16th-note pattern where the hi-hat goes off beat. I just love playing it and I really feel it’s a unique part. I don’t even know how it came out. There’s something like a drum solo in there too. Joe wrote this solo in the studio, which was totally amazing. I asked if I could drum over it with him, so we did this duet.
“I play to Joe most of the time. It’s weird because most drummers play to a bass player. My playing style is more musical I think, rather than just being a drummer. I hear melodies and think about melodies, but I can’t play them.”
The success of Statues landed Black Peaks supports with some amazing bands, like Deftones at Wembley, then DillingerEscape Plan, Mastodon...
“Deftones was the first one and that was insane. Architects were supposed to do it and then the
“On Statues, most of the parts were. unconsidered, animalistic and about letting. myself go a little bit. That’s what was. best for those songs”.
Bataclan happened and the show got moved and Architects couldn’t do it anymore. We’d just released our album and were touring. About two weeks later we found out we were going to be playing with Deftones. We were so ready for that show. We wanted to play big shows. I felt like I was playing some of the best drums I’d ever played. I literally cried when I saw the email because they’re like my favourite band in the world.”
What was that gig like? Support slots at arenas can be hit and miss?
“I think we played really well. Some of the reviews were incredible. People still tell us they’d never heard of us until that day. I wasn’t nervous at all. I met Abe and all the guys. That whole vibe of being in that cool environment with these people, I was like, ‘Let’s do this.’
“Then we had a month where we wanted to play shows in Europe. We let our agent know and we started seeing little festivals come in. We got Architects support for four days in France. That was a great start. Then it was four days with Dillinger Escape Plan; Zagreb with Prophets of Rage. Then Mastodon happened. That was a dream come true for all of us. That was the one we had been collectively waiting for. The day we left for that whole tour we got an email saying we were playing with System Of A Down in an arena at the end of the tour. Five huge bands. It was crazy, the best tour ever.”
The new Black Peaks album, AllThatDivides will be released in October. What can you reveal about the record and your approach to the drums?
“I’m endorsed by Zildjian so I wanted to try out some different things with them. I got a load of different cymbals to try, but ended up sticking to what I know which is A crashes and K stuff! That’s my sound. For drums I borrowed a British Drum Co kit and I used my old Gretsch too. I recorded with Evans Hydraulics. I wanted to get that really bright attack-y sound. They did pretty well.
“The snare I used was a Serenity Drums custom. It was made for me by a guy called John Hammond. It’s a segmented stave snare made out of four types of wood. It has 180 different pieces of wood. It’s bonkers. It’s even got one of my old skateboards in the middle ring and has handmade lugs, made from 1912 to 1914 pennies.
“We went to Vada Studios up towards Birmingham. It’s an amazing studio. The drum room is in an old chapel that must be about 500 years old. You get really nice resonance in that room. The live sound is just incredible. We used a lot of the natural reverbs in there.
“The guy who recorded it – Adrian Bushby – was real old school, using the desk, more so than all the preamps. I was totally blown away that he got the live mixed sound from the drums straight into the desk. It was really the most honest version of me that I’ve heard. Of course, there are things I would change next time from this experience – like I think I would trust my instinct a bit more, but you know I’m still really happy with it and I think it sounds absolutely amazing.”
You have just released a track called ‘Can’t Sleep’, which sounds like a natural progression from Statues.
“That song is a transitional song, the best of both worlds. That was written three years ago. We recorded Statues in 2014, then started writing straight away. We recorded the new album at the end of 2017. It’s heavy, but more melodic I think. It’s still got the guttural heaviness. There are huge slow grooves on quite a lot of it, then faster Mars Volta, Queens Of The Stone Age kind of stuff. There’s one song in particular that has a very Queens-y tom part.”
Did you still have the chance to record some tasty drum parts?
“I wanted to let the music through a bit more. That was my plan. I do think I should have let myself loose more than I did. I think I was too hard on myself trying to make it perfect this time.”
“The more we do this the more I realise that I. want to do this for the rest of my life and that’s. why I want to become the best I can be”.